So I have this thing called a touch phobia…

Touch phobia is also rather unhelpfully known by the following names: haphephobia, aphephobia, haphophobia, hapnophobia, haptephobia, haptophobia, thixophobia and just ‘fear of being touched.’ I call it a ‘touch phobia,’ and that works for me.

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Well, the name works for me, not the phobia. The phobia is a son of a bitch. And anyone who has it probably knows just how awful it can be.

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I’m lucky, I don’t have a truly severe version. My phobia has never made me throw up. I can sit in the passenger seat in the front of a car when someone else is driving (though it makes me feel trapped, and sometimes I’ve had to get out of cars or ask that they stop). I can shop in shopping centres, and I can even handle hugging some people hello and goodbye.

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The list of things I can’t do, right now, because of the phobia, is long and winding. From not being able to stand next to people on a crowded bus, to not being able to handle people walking behind me when I’m sitting down.

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For many of us, and certainly me, touch burns like fire, is intensely aggravating, or – as I like to describe it – ‘feels like sandpaper vigorously rubbing against the *inside* of my skin.’ You would think, because of that, I hate touch and don’t want it in my life, but you’d be wrong. I like the idea of touch (though I can’t imagine it too explicitly, or I trigger the phobia even when no one’s around). I crave touch. Pre-touch phobia, I used to be a physically affectionate person.

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I’ve tried different ways of dealing with this. I’ve talked to several therapists, I’ve even seen a sex therapist in the hopes that she’d come across a case like mine before (she hadn’t; the downside to finding experienced therapists in a small town). I’ve done research online and come across a whole bunch of bogus, generic, ‘I can fix your X phobia with this video/tape/cassette/aluminium hat, for X amount of dollars!’

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I’ve been drawn to media representations of people with touch phobia for some time now, from Ciel Phantomhive in Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler), to little Cindy in the two-part Press Gang episode written by the wonderful Steven Moffat.

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Ciel from Kuroshitsuji

Ciel from Kuroshitsuji

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Of course, it’s not a coincidence that I was also drawn to both of these characters; they have experienced childhood sexual abuse. That said, not everyone with a touch phobia has been sexually abused. But a lot of us have.

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Cindy from Press Gang

Cindy from Press Gang

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I’d list a lot more media examples, but we’re not really well-represented in the media. Which is a shame, because there’s not one way to have a touch phobia, and it manifests so differently that it would be you know – nice for me as someone who studies mass media – to see more representations of touch phobia out there.

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Some people are specifically scared of being touched by the opposite sex, some people are specifically scared of being touched by people, but not animals. Some people are specifically scared of sexual touch, but not any other kind of touch. Some people are specifically scared of intimate touch, but other forms of touch are fine. It affects people of all genders and sexes and walks of life. But not many people have heard of it, or know that such a thing exists. A lot of people don’t talk about it, even if they have it.

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There’s no guaranteed way to recover from a touch phobia. And everyone responds differently to different methods. Some people have a natural remission over time. Others need to put in a ridiculous amount of effort for a tiny amount of progress. Others find that they don’t want to recover from their touch phobia, because they don’t miss intimate touch of any kind, and don’t find they need it. There’s no one psychological technique that will work for everyone, and it’s important not to let other people try and convince you this is true. Because if you do, and then the technique fails you, you’ll end up blaming yourself, instead of the circumstances, environment, technique, or just ‘it not being the right time yet.’

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I’m writing about this again because it is actually the most common search topic on my WordPress journal. And I’m writing about this again, because I still have it. It’s still there. It’s still a son of a bitch. And because I’m not alone in trying to figure it out; but I feel that way, because not many people write about it. And because if you’re one of those people who feels alone in trying to figure it out, I want you to know you’re not. There are a lot of us out there, trying to wrap our heads around it, some of us wondering and hoping it could be different one day. And most of us are putting phenomenal amounts of energy into stopping it from getting worse, and even trying to heal from it.

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We’re out there. Cringing away from people who walk too close to us. Swallowing down nausea when a family member kisses us in neutral greeting on the cheek. Loving our partners endlessly and then struggling to understand why we can’t lie in the same bed with them, or cuddle. Letting the buses pass until there’s one empty enough for us to enter. Shopping online to avoid the crowds, and trying to count to 10 so we can survive waiting in a line at the bank. In whatever ways it manifests, we’re out there. And there’s probably more of us than we think.

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